The Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle open to horses aged four years or older. As part of a sponsorship agreement with the online sportsbook StanJames.com, the race is now known as the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

It is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 2 miles and 110 yards, and during its running there are eight hurdles to be jumped. The race is scheduled to take place each year on the opening day and is the highlight on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival.

As its title suggests, the Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar. Its list of winners features many of the most highly acclaimed hurdlers in the sport’s history, and several of these, such as National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace, Persian War and Lanzarote, have had races named in their honour.

Interestingly, despite it being the race all the best hurdlers are aimed at, multiple winners are not uncommon as Istabraq and Hardy Eustace have proved in recent years. This is probably partly due to the unique requirements of the race and horses with previous course form, especially previous Festival form, have fared particularly well in the event. In addition, you often need a horse that stays further than two miles, as the good record in the race of recent Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle (now Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle) winners shows.

Some of the greatest names in the sport grace the race’s role of honour including Persian War, Bula, Night Nurse, Monksfield, Sea Pigeon, See You Then and Istabraq.

History:

The first Champion Hurdle was run in 1927, and its inaugural winner, Blaris, was awarded prize money of £365. In its second year the event was won by Brown Jack, who subsequently became a prolific winner of long-distance flat races. The Champion Hurdle was abandoned in 1931 due to persistent frost, and in 1932 it was contested by just three horses – the smallest field in its history. The race was cancelled twice during World War II, in 1943 and 1944.

The post-war years saw the emergence of the event’s first triple winner, Hatton’s Grace, who was trained in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien. The achievement of Hatton’s Grace was soon to be matched by Sir Ken, who recorded three successive victories in the 1950s. Before the second of these Sir Ken was given a starting price of 2/5 (a £5 bet would have won £2). He is the shortest-priced horse to have won the race. The third horse to win the event three times was Persian War, who completed his hat-trick in 1970. Commercial sponsorship of the Champion Hurdle began in 1978, and it was initially backed by Waterford Crystal.

The 1984 winner, Dawn Run, became the second mare to win the Champion Hurdle. In the same year she also won the Irish and French versions of the event, and two seasons later she won the most prestigious chase in National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. She remains the only horse to have completed the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double. From 1985 to 1987 the Champion Hurdle was dominated by See You Then, who became the event’s fourth three-time winner. A new sponsor, Smurfit (now known as the Smurfit Kappa Group), began supporting the race in 1991. The third female horse to win the race was Flakey Dove, the winner in 1994. Annie Power became the fourth mare in the history of the race to win in 2016.

The most recent triple winner of the Champion Hurdle was Istabraq, whose successes came in 1998, 1999 and 2000. In the early weeks of 2001 he was the odds-on favourite to win the race again, for an unprecedented fourth time. However, this opportunity was lost as the entire Cheltenham Festival was cancelled that year because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Istabraq returned for the 2002 running, but on this occasion he failed to complete the race, and he was retired thereafter.

The race is the final leg of the Road to Cheltenham, a series of high-class hurdles races sponsored by StanJames.com consisting of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the International Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle Trial.

In 2013 Hurricane Fly became the first horse since Comedy Of Errors (in 1975) to regain the Champion Hurdle crown, having previously won the race in 2011 before losing it a year later.

In 2016 Annie Power became the first mare to win the Champion Hurdle since Flakey Dove in 1995.

Race Previews:

Champion Hurdle 2016 winner Annie Power
Annie Power became the first mare since Flakey Dove in ’95 to win the Champion Hurdle in 2016.

Previous Winners:

YearHorseAgeTrainerOdds
2016Annie Power8W P Mullins5-2F
2015Faugheen7W P Mullins4-5F
2014Jezki6Ms J Harrington9-1
2013Hurricane Fly9W P Mullins13-8F
2012Rock On Ruby7H Fry11-1
2011Hurricane Fly7W P Mullins11-4F
2010Binocular6N J Henderson9-1
2009Punjabi6N J Henderson22-1
2008Katchit5A King10-1
2007Sublimity7J G Carr16-1
2006Brave Inca8C A Murphy7-4F
2005Hardy Eustace8D T Hughes7-1F
2004Hardy Eustace7D T Hughes33-1
2003Rooster Booster9P Hobbs9-2
2002Hors La Loi III7J R Fanshawe10-1
2000Istabraq8A P O’Brien8-15F